Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Martin Hayes

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following poets, local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

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Martin Hayes

According to Amazon “About the Author
Martin Hayes was born in London in 1966 and has lived in the Edgware Road area all of his life. He played schoolboy football for both Arsenal and Orient, and cricket for Middlesex Colts. Asked to leave school when he was 15, he got a job as a leaflet distributor. Since then he has worked as an accounts clerk, a courier, a telephonist, a controller, a recruitment manager and a control room supervisor. He doesn’t t expect his situation to change much until he dies or else the sun explodes.

He has worked for over 35 years in the London courier industry and is the author of 4 books of poetry: Letting Loose The Hounds, (Redbeck Press, 2001). When We Were Almost Like Men, (Smokestack, 2015). The Things Our Hands Once Stood For, (Culture Matters, 2018) and ROAR! (Smokestack, 2018)

The Interview

What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?
Stress mainly. I couldn’t deal with the frustration and stress of living and having no way of getting it out of me. I’d done years of 11-hour shifts as a courier controller and I’d come to a point where it all seemed so pointless. I had nothing tangible to show for it. It was a bit of a crisis for me. I didn’t know what to do and felt that I was wasting my life. Writing for me was the metaphorical tap that when turned on got all of that shit out of me. I tried other ways but writing was the best way I found to make sense of it all. Make it all seem worthwhile.

Who introduced you to poetry?
I introduced myself to it, I think. There was a group of us who used to hang around our area and we got to an age where we started drinking and experimenting with other things and a couple of them I identified with more than the others and so we started to get into the literature and music that accompanied that. Blake, Bukowski, Morrison, Hendrix, The Jam, The Who, The Kinks etc. And then from all of that I got into poetry and it just did it for me. So much magic in so few words – I liked the way it could make you feel – there was such potential in it – the way the good ones smacked their hammer right on top of that head.

How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Not a lot. I never grew up with poetry or writing or any other creative influences around me. Apart from the music. I grew up on my estate – the only ‘dominating presence’ around there were ‘The Big Twins’ from Dinton House and ‘Terry The Tosser’ – mean bastards, all three of them. School wasn’t a learning experience – it was a test of survival – like it is for a lot of people I guess. But now, I see the hierarchy in the poetry world, the way it is tiered. The best way I can describe my experience of it so far is to imagine a castle with a moat around it and you arriving at its gates and hollering up – let me in, I’ve got something to show you – so you chuck what you’ve got over the walls and then you wait and wait and wait for the drawbridge to come down to let you in but it never does – so you begin hollering again – hey, remember me, I thought you’d at least get back to me – but again there’s no answer – and there won’t be any answers either – so everything goes quiet and the occupants of the castle, the coterie, hope you’ll just come to the conclusion that you’re writing is crap and go away – but if you know that it isn’t crap you start to wonder why they won’t let the drawbridge down for you and one of the reasons is because you smell different to them – for them, you smell of shit. It’s a clique and a class thing, which – as Martin Malone recently said – ‘is still the biggest game in town’. Having said that, there are also some editors and publishers out there who don’t give a toss where you went to school – or how well educated you are – or who you know – or what clique you’re a part of – and they just publish stuff that they like and think is relevant – most of them though don’t receive grant money so may feel that they have a bit more freedom than those who need to toe the line in tone and style and subject matter lest their precious standing in the poetry community and their grant money is taken away.

What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t have a daily one. I only write on Friday nights and some Sundays. I jot things down – ideas, scenarios etc. – on the bus and when I’m having coffees in the morning before work starts but what with the long shifts I do I don’t get time to write anything at all during the week – too bloody knackered – and then Friday comes around. I love Friday afternoons/nights – the potential of them – it’s the time!
I’d love to have the time and the space to write on a daily basis. But my financial circumstances and my responsibilities mean that it just ain’t gonna happen.

What motivates you to write?
The magic. I love trying to make sense or trying to interpret what we go through and then having it there in front of you fresh off the typer. The way when you’re into the first couple of lines of a new poem and you can feel it, feel the rest of it in there rising up out of you – that’s the magic. Of course, sometimes it plops out of you like a turd – that’s not so nice. But when it’s one of those magic ones, it is one of the best feelings in the world.

What is your work ethic?
Working 11-hours a day Monday to Friday for the last 30 years gives you a pretty good idea. So I think I’ve got a good one. I don’t have a choice though. There’s rent and bills and debt to pay off. Writing wise – as I said above, I only write on Friday nights and on a Sunday – they are my times – if I don’t get it done on those days then it has to either wait or it doesn’t get done.

How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I’ve never really analysed that one. I’m sure they have but I didn’t start going out looking for particular authors to read till I was in my late teens. Miroslav Holub was a writer I always went back to – his necessary veiled sarcasm – the need to have to use metaphor because otherwise if you said it how it was back then you might get ‘disappeared’ while walking down an alleyway towards home tipsy after the pub – that meant a lot to me – the guts of him – his methodical approach to a poem, like the experiments of his day job, I admired and liked that a lot. Bukowski too – his conversational style was very influential to me – like you were in a pub with him just chatting and then that chat could just balloon into something more. Blake as well for the beauty good insight can bring to everyday things. And Thomas’ Under Milk Wood – the thump thump thump of the language in that I read over and over.

Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Fran Lock – she’s definitely got the magic and her imagery unsettles me, sometimes she makes me shit scared for her and the potential of fragility that she paints. We all go there and it’s scary. Very special writer.
Fred Voss – I am lucky enough to have become friends with Fred, his poems are inspiring – both on a human level and a political and solidarity level – for me, he has the most relevant and poetic voice I have ever come across.
Peter Raynard’s Precarious book is good – real good. His voice – and what the book is about – a working class man growing up and into fatherhood is spot on – so identifiable to me – he’s a bonafide witness to what that is like.
Martin Espada – his writing, but especially his book The Meaning of the Shovel, is elegant and striking – a brilliant and very necessary book.
Also Jon Tait – he’s a postie from up in Northumberland – a brilliant catcher of what people can feel in a particular moment or a scene – extremely good writer.
These guys spring to mind now but there are individual poems by other writers that I would like to mention too but I know this isn’t the place for such a long list.

Why do you write?
The magic. The buzz. The need to make sense of a world gone mad. I write a lot about work – it’s what pays for the roof over my head, for my families food, heat and hot water blah blah blah – it’s important to me. But it is also changing. Or has changed I should say. The relationship between employer and employee is so stacked in the employers favour nowadays that the employee has become 99% voiceless whose rights are largely and often blatantly ignored. And when you throw technology into the mix, eating away at the job stock, you get this pressure being placed on people that is almost unbearable. Having said that, the camaraderie that exists in the workplace can be very inspiring and uplifting too. The people and characters I have met over the years in the courier business have been amazing – both the good and the bad – the dark sense of humour and sarcasm they turn on everything, developed as a survival tactic – and I have always felt that through their stories, put down plain and simple, a picture of this system and the society that it has created, the worker’s and other individual’s place, in all of that, could be told. That is the point of writing isn’t it, to make things more understood, otherwise why did we pick up those charcoals and pigments in those caves centuries ago in the first place.

What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
It’s easy. You pick up a pen or open a typer and just do it. Tons of people do it. There’s writers and poets everywhere. They infest us. But if you are talking about  becoming a writer that is relevant – then I’d say go out and live – work and play and learn – meet as many people as possible – ask as many questions as you can – get some life into you – then build a hide as thick as a rhinos – but keep your heart intact – and drink a lot of wine – and then write.

Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
No projects. Just looking forward to the next Friday night to come around and see if that magic comes.




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